Snowmaking guns blow snow at the Howelsen Hill Ski Area. The historic downtown Steamboat Springs fixture will open for the season at 10 a.m. Saturday.

Photo by John F. Russell

Snowmaking guns blow snow at the Howelsen Hill Ski Area. The historic downtown Steamboat Springs fixture will open for the season at 10 a.m. Saturday.

Howelsen Hill Ski Area in downtown Steamboat to open season Saturday

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— One of the oldest ski areas in the country will open for another season Saturday.

Howelsen Hill in downtown Steamboat will open its Poma lift to the public at 10 a.m. Saturday as the historic city-owned downtown ski area begins the 2012-13 season. The Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club has been using the ski area for training during the past couple of weeks.

“We always try to open the first weekend of December,” said Craig Robinson, Steamboat Springs Parks, Open Space and Recreational Services Department supervisor. “The conditions are pretty good considering there isn’t a lot of natural snow anywhere in the area.”

Robinson said the work of city crews and recent improvements to the snowmaking equipment at Howelsen Hill will allow the opening of the Howelsen face and and beginners area this Saturday. He hopes that as temperatures drop and natural snow begins to fall, additional terrain will open soon.

“We will have the Poma and the first and second exit open Saturday,” Robinson said. “That will allow people to ski the main face of Howelsen Hill.”

Unfortunately, Robinson said the ski area’s Nordic trail system will not be open for skiing this weekend. While he is holding out hope for natural snow, Robinson said crews could start blowing snow at the rodeo grounds to transport to the Nordic trail system.

The Howelsen Hill Ski Area was primarily a jumping hill when it opened in the fall of 1914, and according to the city of Steamboat Springs website, it is the oldest continuously operated ski facility in North America. In 1917 the hill was officially named after Carl Howelsen, the man who brought ski jumping and the Winter Carnival to Steamboat Springs.

In the 1930s the ski area was expanded when a slalom course was cleared on the east flank of the hill, but according to local historian Bill Fetcher, it still didn’t represent a true “ski area."

In 1934, a boat tow was added to haul materials to the top of the hill to maintain the ski jumps. In 1937, the boat tow was relocated and modified to carry skiers. The tow was extended to take skiers to the top of Howelsen Hill.

By 1946 the downtown ski facility had taken a few more steps toward becoming a full-fledged ski area, Fetcher said. A lodge was added at the base, and a rope tow was added for beginners to the west of the current jumps. The next year, the ski area added a chairlift that stretched from the base area to the top of Emerald Mountain. That lift was shortened a few years later to drop skiers off at the top of Howelsen Hill.

This winter, the ski area will operate from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. The lifts also will be open to the public from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Fridays. Weekday hours will be limited for the first few weeks, with lift access for the public from 1 to 6 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The Poma will be open from 3:45 to 6 p.m. Thursdays. The hours will be extended to 8 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday evenings after Dec. 18.

Lift tickets for the ski area are $20 for adults, $15 for seniors and youths 7 to 18, and $8 for skiers 6 and younger. Season passes can be purchased for $170 for adults, $75 for senior citizens and youths 7 to 18, and $35 for children 6 and younger. Families can purchase a pass good for a married couple and their children younger than 18 for $370.

Season pass prices will increase Jan. 1.

On Dec. 16, the Rotary Club of Steamboat Springs will host the Community Holiday Wishes Party. The party, which will take place from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. will include tubing, hot chocolate and pictures with Santa. It takes the place of the city's annual community holiday party, and it will provide an opportunity for residents to drop off gifts for the Holiday Wishes Program.

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209 or email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com

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